21 July, 2022
Interest builds around FNQ Growers R & D Field Day
INTEREST among local farmers is building as the re-vamped FNQ Growers R&D Field Day prepares to shine a spotlight on the area's numerous agricultural commodities that contribute more than $1 billion annually to the region's economy.
Horticulture has developed significantly in the region and the field days will showcase that evolving landscape with traditional crops alongside the “new kid on the block”, cotton, which has already doubled in area and is expected to continue expanding.
FNQ Growers president Joe Moro said he hoped the field day, which is being held at the Mareeba Turf Club on 29 July and will showcase a wide range of industries and their peak body representatives, would give growers some new direction and new ideas going forward.
“Cost issues have been really biting for growers, as increased supermarket prices aren't necessarily being passed on to producers.
Fertiliser and fuel costs in particular, combined with concerns over the varroa mite outbreak and the threat of Foot and Mouth disease, have confidence at a bit of a low point right now,” Mr Moro said.
“Hopefully getting together with fellow growers, hearing about new developments within their industry and just letting their hair down at the free barbecue afterwards will be beneficial to all our farmers.” he said.
With a research and development focus, the field day presents an opportunity for new, current and potential growers to meet and network with the people behind their industries.
The recently elected CEO of Queensland Farmers Federation and previous Sunwater board director, Jo Sheppard, will be furthering discussions on the realities of carbon as another income stream for farmers.
CEO’s from Hort Innovations, the grower-owned, research and development corporation representing 37 of Australia's horticultural industries and the advocacy group for fruit, vegetable and nut growers, Growcom, will be there to update farmers on recent developments.
“Four years ago, we ran the day as an ‘Efficiency Forum’ and plan to present it in its new form every two years, as a way of bringing a wide range of national peak body representatives, farming and allied industries together,” Mr Moro said.
Field day guest speaker and Mareeba mango grower for the last 35 years, John Nucifora, will cover industry topics such as regional production, the lack of young farmers coming through the ranks and the need to re-enter the export arena.
“Mareeba grows around a quarter of Australia's mangoes and before Covid, we were exporting a million trays of fruit a year into China. Mango growing is not for the feint-hearted, you have to wear a lot of costs and need to be very vigilant to produce quality fruit,” Mr Nucifora warned.
After a “pretty ordinary year,” North Queensland director of Avocadoes Australia and Atherton avocado grower since 1978, Jim Koci, will also be focusing on talking to growers about creating export opportunities to boost returns on their beleaguered crop.
“A disrupted economy, oversupply issues and below average weather at the start of the Hass harvest have knocked us around a bit,” Mr Koci said.
“Prices are awful right now, but we have been growing avocadoes for 35 years and when you have a tree crop, you have it for life.
Exporting is not the perfect solution, but we don't have a lot of other options at the moment.
“International quarantine protocols around fruit fly means we can only supply to non-protocol countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Japan, China and Thailand are off the export table for Australia.
“We are competing against New Zealand, Chile, Peru and Mexico for markets. Mexico produces two million ton of mangoes a year, compared to Australia's 70,000 ton capacity and they export directly into Japan, Korea and China.
“We have done a lot of work with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry developing protocols to manage fruit fly and get it through the system, but the export freight system out of Cairns has been built around high value products like prawns and crayfish, making it too expensive for fruit growers.
“Cheaper freight alternatives are available out of Sydney, but the Cairns to Sydney freight component has to be factored in and using Sydney as a depot increases the food miles of our product, detracting from its "fresher on the shelves" advantage over Mexican and South American product.
“As the North Queensland and Bundaberg avocado season wraps up and we have less coming through from other states, the prices should pick up a bit, depending on the Western Australian volume.
But next February, the problem will return with the new harvest and I am keen to get as many growers' views as possible during the field day.”
Citrus Australia Regional Committee FNQ chair Debbie Caamano said the field day was a good chance for all growers and suppliers to get together and meet the team of Citrus Australia and other groups on the day.
Mrs Caamano and her husband Jose farm 18,000 limes and 800 pomelo which they pack themselves and send to markets in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, sending all of their second grade limes to a juice factory in summer.
The field day will kick off at 10am with the Hort Innovation Forum and there will also be a range of commercial exhibitors.
After the official opening, the event continues with guest speakers exploring grower opportunities in cotton, carbon farming and carbon trading, export and innovation.